2A.4 Building climate change resilience into a coastal habitat complex, Albemarle Peninsula, NC

Monday, 18 July 2011: 2:15 PM
Salon A (Asheville Renaissance)
Brian Boutin, The Nature Conservancy, Kill Devil Hills, NC; and C. E. Burns

Located between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in northeastern North Carolina, the Albemarle Peninsula is a prime example of both the importance and fragility of coastal ecosystems, and represents a key opportunity to implement effective climate adaptation strategies. This low-lying landscape is comprised of a complex network of submerged grasses, shallow water oyster reefs, marshes, swamp forests, pocosins, and rivers. Millions of dollars in state, federal, and private funds have been invested in land acquisitions and other conservation activities on the Albemarle Peninsula to preserve these unique and important habitats. However, centuries of ditching and draining of wetlands on the Albemarle Peninsula in concert with it's extremely low elevation has left the region vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea level rise. Many impacts of sea level rise – increased shoreline erosion, rapid habitat transitions, saltwater intrusion, and a rising water table – have already become visible on the Albemarle Peninsula. Recognizing the urgency to build the resilience of the landscape to future change, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2008, with primary funding from Duke Energy Business Services, LLC, to ensure that, as the ecosystems of the Albemarle Peninsula are inevitably altered by climate change, they are transformed into ones that remain complex and provide a suite of ecosystem services. This partnership aims to address climate stressors through implementing long-term adaptive management strategies that contribute most to the resilience of both the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the Peninsula, including re-establishing a natural hydrologic regime in drained wetlands, managing the transition of habitats through strategic plantings of salt- and flood-tolerant vegetation, and using oyster reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, and marsh grasses to abate shoreline wave energy. In addition, the partnership is modeling historical and future scenarios (i.e. inundation, hydrology, vegetation change) to strategically identify corridors for acquisition so that species and natural communities can migrate inland and upland in response to sea level changes. Efforts are already being undertaken in an experimental context at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to test the efficacy of these strategies in a way that encourages agencies and other land managers to employ coastal adaptation at a much larger scale. We will describe these climate adaptation experiments, our initial findings, and the implications of this research for climate adaptation across the Peninsula.
- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner